Writing the Grant Is the Easiest Part

“What do you mean grant writing is the easiest part?” I was recently asked by one of my clients, who had just spent months moving bureaucratic mountains trying to get his city to approve the hiring of a grant writer. I repeated my initial statement, but this time added, “it’s figuring out what you want to buy that is difficult.”

As a grant writer, or as what I often term a “grant strategist,” I work with public safety agencies across the country assisting them in not only writing successful grant applications, but also helping these organizations think more strategically about going after public and private grant funding. It may seem obvious that all public safety agencies want grant money. It may be surprising, however, that most public safety agencies don’t know what they want to buy with that funding. 

Sure, there are always clients who want technology; cars; helicopters; and lately, drones. But when you talk about outcomes and ask organizational leadership how these new, flashy tools will reduce and prevent crime and better engage the community, there is always a pause. This is where the true work of a grant writer/strategist comes in, because at the end of the day, grant writing is really about program and policy development. 

One of the first things I do when I meet with a public safety agency is encourage leadership to sit down in the summer and fall with grant writers and engage in a strategic planning process to develop a grant strategy that will inform their proposal writing work in the winter and spring. This might sound a bit academic or even daunting, but it’s really about organizational decisionmakers sitting down to simply put together a "wish list.” In essence, a grant strategy is just a fancy term for a wish list.

A grant strategy or wish list can be informal and consist only of a few projects or initiatives that your agency wants to implement in the coming year, or it can be formal and include complex, tabulated spreadsheets listing priority projects with assigned personnel, timelines, desired outcomes, and budget estimates. The presentation is not what’s important; rather, it’s about how it’s utilized. Sometimes, grant strategies end up being so detailed and complex that they are no longer useful for moving ideas to fruition. On the other hand, if a grant strategy is too general, individuals may adopt a more hands-off approach, assuming someone else will take charge of proposal development and implementation. 

A functional grant strategy, at a minimum, should include four basic components:

1) A Short Description of Each Proposed Initiative: A few sentences will usually suffice to describe each proposed initiative; more detail can be added as program development moves forward. 

2) An Assigned Project Lead: Sometimes this is a subject matter expert, but it also could be a policy advisor who has identified a gap that needs to be filled. Whomever is assigned as the lead should be able to gather additional personnel to discuss and move an idea forward, whether subject matter experts, budget personnel, and/or outside partners. 

3) A Cost Estimate: Even a ballpark estimate is helpful for planning purposes, but budgets can also be more detailed in scope, with breakdowns by line item. Estimated figures are typically adjusted anyway, when the agreed upon plan or project is written up.

4) A List of Potential Resources: Identifying potential public and private resources that could be leveraged to support the proposed program will help move a project idea forward faster. This is the point when you can grow your concept, think of an approach, and add more project details to connect your idea to a funder.  

I’ve been told by development experts that the biggest mistake fundraisers make is not making “the ask.” I have seen well written grant strategies that include innovative program ideas, capable personnel, reasonable cost estimates, and potential funding sources – but then, nothing happens. A grant strategy or wish list, no matter how well presented, in and of itself will not get you funded. You need to take the next step by presenting the idea(s) laid out in your strategy to a potential funder in a format and through a process that they will welcome.   

Depending on the potential funder, the next step could entail writing up an ‘elevator speech,’ letter of intent, or concept paper to share, thus providing an initial, short presentation to gauge interest. This, in turn, could lead to a request for more information, a full proposal, or even a rejection – either way, you know blissfully early in the process whether a potential funder interested or not. No matter what route you take to get there, the grant writing phase is the final step. Because you have already identified a need, developed it into a program with help from subject matter experts, and effectively outlined projected costs and an initial approach, writing it up as a grant proposal in the end should come naturally. So, as I said, grant writing is the easiest part – as long as you know what you want.


Joan Brody has assisted an array of public safety organizations in jurisdictions across the country with grant writing and development. She is presently working with the Baltimore City (MD) Police Department to develop a functional departmental grant strategy through BJA NTTAC. Ms. Brody is also advising the 13 communities working to address high rates of violent crime as part of the Violence Reduction Network (VRN).

If you are interested in submitting the work of your organization or jurisdiction for consideration to be featured in a future TTA Today blog post or to obtain information related to a particular topic area, please email us at BJANTTAC@ojp.usdoj.gov.

Points of view or opinions on BJA NTTAC’s TTA Today blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice, BJA, or BJA NTTAC.